REVIEW: Pharis & Jason Romero’s “Bet on Love” is Homegrown Music Performed Live


Pharis & Jason Romero – Bet on Love

It impresses me how relatively unknown artists have such rich voices. Pharis Romero is blessed. A little less Appalachian than Iris DeMent, she’s smooth as Emmylou Harris. Accompanied by her husband Jason (banjo & acoustic guitars) the many instruments here were handcrafted by Jason (a gourd banjo on “New Caledonia”).

“Hometown Blues,” & “New Day,” are simple openers but it’s Pharis’ vocal interpretation that’s warming. A beer with a shot of whiskey. Jason’s finger-picking is steady & despite the spare instrumentation, no drums, piano, etc.. It’s musical.

Pharis’ (who also plays a 1939 Gibson J-35) vocally soars on “New Day.” The LP “Bet on Love,” (drops May 15 – Lula Records) is the duo’s 5th. The 2-time Juno Award winners (Canada’s equivalent of the Grammys) recorded the songs in their banjo shop in British Columbia with producer Marc Jenkins.

The homegrown music performed live features Patrick Metzger (bass) & John Reishman (mandolin). 11-songs captured on vintage equipment, & microphones. Despite the lack of a “band” sound, the songs are strong & stand alone with the clarity of both Pharis’ vocal & Jason’s full-bodied picking.

“Bet on Love,” showcases Pharis’ vocal — a thrilling beauty of sound. There isn’t a lot of harmonizing or interplay on the songs – not in a manner of the more vigorous Jim & Jean of 1967 (“People World”), Lyme & Cybelle (“Follow Me”) or Mamas & the Papas. Pharis sings her parts, Jason supports, creates a dual vocal briefly. The sound is nevertheless rousing, & not overbearing.

At times it touches the hem of bluegrass but only as an influence or merely suggested. The duo’s songs are banjo-driven with excellent singer-songwriter fare. The original tunes carry traditional melodic sources & are subliminally Celtic, Irish, old England, Scottish folk, Appalachian-type. Emmylou Harris, Maire Brennan, Alison Krauss & Ricky Skaggs would find comfort playing with this duo.

I don’t know much about banjo except for what’s been introduced by some rock musicians (the masterful Paul Rodden who worked with Frank Tovey – “Liberty Tree,” “Bad Day at Bow Creek,” & Paul’s solo “Whistler at the Wake.”) & the nice simplistic yet, effective banjo on the epic “Crazy Eyes,” by Poco.

Listening to Jason’s picking he makes it sound easy, yet it has a skilled vibrancy. He never showboats. “Old Chatelaine” features the duo to great effect. I like Pharis’ rural sound – it possesses sincerity. She’s not a diva, she’s an artist. And while Jason is a musician, he’s also a craftsman. It must be a special feeling to emit a musical sound from a piece of wood, steel & strings you put together.

“Kind Girl,” is commercial — where Pharis is in the land of Gillian Welch, & Kathy Mattea. “World Stops Turning,” is Jason’s solo turn & he possesses a pure traditional folk voice. Pharis backs him but never overpowers – her voice accentuates with cohesiveness. This is a relaxing collection.

The 43-minute CD is available at their website.

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